Mere is a quiet, small town in the southwest corner of Wiltshire, close to the Dorset border. It’s an ancient town with roots dating to the iron age and earlier. An iron age hill fort and bowl barrows provide insight into the long time that people have inhabited this area.
Salisbury Museum displays objects from a burial dated to the 7th or 8th century AD. These items were discovered during building work in 1995.
You can see from the photos that there are some fine old buildings in Mere, a town which is quite tranquil thanks to the bypass that was built in 1976. It would never have coped with the higher traffic levels on UK roads. The parish church, St Michael the Archangel, was constructed during the 12th to 15th centuries but does contain remnants from an earlier building. It was restored in 1856 and has a 38-metre tower with eight bells.
I start my journey from the public car park off Salisbury Street. Walking out of the car park, I am faced with the premises of FJ Chalke, a Kia car dealership. Little is left of what once stood here. On this site stood the workhouse where the poor living in a system without social security had to work. The workhouse was closed in 1930 and demolished, except for a small building at the front (used as an office) and the former laundry and day-room block at the rear (converted to residential use). Shockingly to our modern minds, the last workhouses were not closed until 1948.
I decided to go left from the car park and take the road towards Frome. Behind the building on the right is the towering hill upon which once stood Mere Castle. Erected by the first Earl of Cornwall in 1253, it had rectangular corner towers with a round tower on the sides. It was abandoned after 200 years of use, and by the 17th century, it was in ruins, the stone having been removed for local buildings. It’s a steep walk to the top of Castle Hill; however, it’s worth the effort as the views are amazing. The Duchy of Cornwall owns the hill, as is much of the surrounding land. I was surprised upon reaching the top; that sat all around a memorial to the 43rd Wessex Infantry was a herd of goats! These are kept to reduce the chance of trees growing and destroying the archaeology. The area has been set up to provide nature trails around the hill.
The George Inn Mere
Going back to street level, we can see some fine examples of buildings, including the former Ship Inn that is now comprised of residential properties; across the road is the beautiful 16th century The George Inn, looking resplendent with its black and white Tudor beams, so typical of our idea of buildings from that period. We pass another pub, The Butt of Sherry which has been trading since around 1894 and is a traditional English pub.
Crossing the road and going back into the town centre, we see the marketplace dominated by Mere's clock tower in front of The George Inn’s main frontage. It stands on the site of the market house, which also served as a school. This was demolished in 1863, and the clock tower was opened in 1868 by the Prince of Wales before he became King Edward VII. Heading along the marketplace towards the parish church, we find the library, which contains the town’s museum. The museum is free to enter, and I recommend a visit to learn more about the past of this fascinating little town.
Mere, a former mill town
Mere once had several mills in the area and a brewery. The former brewery in Water Street is now appropriately the premises of Yapp Wine Merchants. Walking down Water Street, no doubt named such due to the small river, Ashfield Water, there are more lovely old buildings, including one called, The Old Silk Works. I walk the loop from Water Street to Petteridge Lane and back to the clock tower. Interestingly, in Petterdige Lane, St Mary’s Catholic Church was created using a World War 2 Nissen Hut purchased by the church in 1946. A former resident of Mere gave the site in memory of her son, who was killed at Dunkirk, and the church was formally opened in September 1946.
Mere is one of my favourite small towns and well worth a visit. It’s not far from the National Trust’s Stourhead House and Garden and so easy to include a visit. When driving from Stourhead, you will pass under the A303 and see a new industrial estate on your left. Here you will find the brush factory. Hillbrush has a visitor centre, shop and restaurant. The food is excellent!
I hope you have enjoyed this little exploration of Mere. Please do leave a comment, and also feel free to ask any questions. I will always do my best to answer them.
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How absolutely beautiful, Roland. And what fascinating history! How I'd love to visit England one day. It looks so quaint, historical, and perfect. One day!